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Lockhart: American values call for immigration reform

Published November 9, 2013 1:01 am

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Recently I had the opportunity to visit Utah's federal elected officials in both the House and Senate in Washington D.C., along with other Utah business, community and political leaders. Our request was simple: Lead on the issue of immigration. Pass what is possible now and ask House leadership to act now.

We had a few suggestions:

• Streamline the visa process so it takes weeks or months instead of years or decades.

• Increase visa caps to accommodate market demand.

• Provide a pathway to legal status for those here illegally and allow them to work.

• Allow companies to hire more immigrants, both highly skilled and low skilled.

• Better secure the border.

As a staunch conservative Republican and former Utah Republican Party chair, I believe "Freedom," "Liberty" and "God-given rights" are more than mere words in America. They are the foundational beliefs upon which we have built the greatest nation on Earth. They also are the principles that should guide us on the issue of immigration.

In the Declaration of Independence, America's founders wrote: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men…"

Of what value is our Constitution and the rule of law if they fail to secure these rights for all people? That is the central question that must be asked, not the mantra some parrot back, "What do you not understand about the word illegal?"

Former Congressman Tom Tancredo pointed out in a 2006 op-ed in USA Today: "Illegal presence in the USA is not a crime; it is a civil infraction." Indeed, it is only punishable by a fine of up to $250, much like a parking or speeding ticket.

Yes, illegal immigration is a problem. But the vast majority of people who come here illegally come not to commit crime but to seek freedom for themselves and their families. Some come for political and religious freedom to escape government corruption and violent gangs trafficking in drugs and human misery; others want economic freedom to earn enough to provide for their families. In short, they are trying to secure the very rights that are enshrined by our nation's founders.

Ronald Reagan understood this when he talked in his farewell address about America as that shining city on a hill "teeming with people of all kinds living in harmony and peace, a city with free ports that hummed with commerce and creativity, and if there had to be city walls, the walls had doors and the doors were open to anyone with the will and the heart to get here."

Time and politics have since cast a cloud on Reagan's vision. Today it is much harder to immigrate to America. What used to take days now takes years, even decades — or never. Little wonder so many abandon the waiting game and come here illegally.

Unfortunately, Congress for decades has neither shown the courage nor the resolve to solve our immigration problems. Even Utah's Legislature got fed up with the federal inaction on immigration, the largest unfunded federal mandate on states, and passed their own legislation — HB 116, which the Wall Street Journal hailed as proof there are still lawmakers "in the tradition of Ronald Reagan" who "don't abandon free-market principles … when the topic turns to immigration."

Many, including members of our own congressional delegation, want to do the right thing. That is why I made the trip to Washington and petitioned them for action.

As I sat with our elected officials, I couldn't help but think of the aspirational words inscribed on the Statue of Liberty, "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses, yearning to breath free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore, send these..." These human beings deserve nothing less than the freedom and liberty America offers.

Meanwhile, the number of illegals flooding over our borders continues unabated with the de-facto amnesty that the current broken immigration system incentivizes. So far, more than 12 million are in the U.S. illegally and more are coming every day.

Let's solve this problem. Now!

Stan Lockhart, Provo, is public affairs director for IM Flash Technologies.